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[Updated] Google Flatly Denies Anonymous Claims It Defrauded AdSense Publishers
Earlier this week, an anonymous post on Pastebin from someone claiming to be a former Google employee purported the company committed fraud against AdSense publishers between 2009 and 2012.
The scheme, in part, allegedly involved shutting down the accounts of high-earning AdSense publishers just prior to their payout periods in order to make up for “serious losses in the financial department” at Google.
Google flatly denies the post as “complete fiction” in a statement issued to the press:
“This description of our AdSense policy enforcement process is a complete fiction. The color-coding and “extreme quality control” programs the author describes don’t exist. Our teams and automated systems work around the clock to stop bad actors and protect our publishers, advertisers and users.
All publishers that sign up for AdSense agree to the Terms and Conditions of the service and a set of policies designed to ensure the quality of the network for users, advertisers and other publishers. When we discover violations of these policies, we take quick action, which in some cases includes disabling the publisher’s account and refunding affected advertisers.”
Matt Cutts, Google head of web spam, has also weighed in to debunk the post in a discussion thread on Hacker News:
“Everything about this post strikes me as a conspiracy-laden fake, from the typos to wrong terminology to untrue policies to the lack of specific names of people. I passed this pastebin to the ads side to confirm for sure, but I would treat this as completely untrue.”
Adding, “I passed these claims directly to the ads side and so far I’ve gotten three (now four) different ‘this is fake’ responses from people I trust and have worked with in different capacities for years, including an engineer that I worked with in search quality who later went to work in ads.”
The post is somewhat rambling, but in short, the author claims that beginning March 2009, employees were told to look for and immediately ban AdSense accounts with monthly earnings exceeding $5,000 that were nearing or in the process of being paid for the AdSense clicks generated from their sites.
The second wave of account bans supposedly took place in April 2012. At that time, the author claims, publishers were grouped by earnings. Sites earning more than $10,000 per month were lumped in the “red” group, while at the other end of the spectrum, VIP accounts of Google employees and publishers with influential media ties were put in an untouchable “green” group.
The author also suggests that Google turned a blind eye to publishers that were banned as a result of click spam attacks. Lastly, the post claims that Google skews data in Google Analytics for all sites in order to under report earnings due to AdSense publishers.
Of the post’s timing, the author claims to have waited until a time when he or she could not be identified.
There are some 2 million AdSense publishers worldwide, and Google reports it paid its publisher partners over $9 billion last year. While many publishers that have had their AdSense accounts closed complain about having little recourse or even explanation from Google, the author’s claims that accounts are banned for a short-term financial gain are hard to take seriously.
Postscript: The author has posted a follow up response to the those doubting the allegations laid out in the original post. In the latest communication, the author stresses that he or she is indeed a former Googler and is not sharing the evidence publicly or with the authorities at this time for three reasons:
“I think a civil action against Google will carry more weight to it, and have a much stronger outcome to the public than a federal case would. The second reason would be that my identity would be front and center if I had approached law enforcement, and if Google were to have squash it immediately I would not have been able to anonymously release the information to the public as a backup plan. The third reason is fear. I do not want to be in the direct identifiable crosshairs of Google’s legal department.”
And to those doubting the evidence of malfeasance exists, the author writes, “I have communications. I have documents, I have files, I have lists, and I have names. I have all of it.”
The author says that documentation will only be shared with legal representatives of a potential class action lawsuit against Google over AdSense. However, if after several months a class action suit is not pursued, the author will “selectively release a few key pieces of evidence to the public at large”.